Chuck Wendig on keeping Han Solo alive in Star Wars Aftermath: Life Debt

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Jul 12, 2016, 12:58 PM EDT

With Star Wars: Aftermath, veteran sci-fi author Chuck Wendig penned the first entry in the new post-Return of the Jedi timeline after Disney and Lucasfilm shuffled all the prior novels, comics and video games that made up the old Star Wars Expanded Universe under the “Legends” banner.

Released just a few months before The Force Awakens, Aftermath was also part of the J.J. Abrams-influenced return to old-school Star Wars. You got to see Rebels versus the Empire, heroism and action, an intricate universe of aliens, criminals and soldiers, along with relatively uncomplicated storytelling. It was also notable for introducing Sinjir Rath Velus, a former Imperial officer and Star Wars' first gay hero.

Picking up immediately after the Battle of Endor, Aftermath brought together a new team of rebel fighters as they faced off against the leaders of a crumbling — but still fighting — Galactic Empire. At the same time, Wendig offered merely tantalizing glimpses of the main characters from the original trilogy — a departure from the heavy focus on the Skywalker and Solo familes in the previous Expanded Universe novels.

With Life Debt, the second entry in (of course) a trilogy of novels, the Aftermath crew is still front and center, but Wendig spends much more time with Han, Leia and Chewie. A pregnant Leia tasks the Aftermath crew with tracking down Han Solo and Chewbacca, who have been missing for months after attempting to free the Wookiee slaves of Kashyyyk. Meanwhile, we see the Empire begin to evolve into the planet-destroying First Order that emerged in The Force Awakens.

With today's release of Life Debt, we talked to Wendig about what it's like to add his voice to the Star Wars juggernaut.

When you pitched Star Wars: Aftermath, was the story in Life Debt part of that original plan?

It was! Though I was initially only hired for the first book, that book was written with a larger story in mind.

Aftermath brought together Temmin, Norra, Jas, Sinjir, Jom and Mister Bones as a team. That has clear parallels with the core group of Luke, Han, Leia, Chewbacca, R2-D2 and C-3PO from A New Hope. In your mind, what do those two groups of rebel heroes share, and how are they different?

I think they share the fact that they’re both a rag-tag group of miscreants who fit together almost precisely because they don’t fit together. The Aftermath crew is different in that it’s a darker, weirder bunch, I think. Which is a great deal of fun to write!

Because you were working on these novels, you have a little knowledge of what's planned for the new trilogy. So, what was your experience like watching The Force Awakens? What parts inspired the novels you’re working on now?

I knew a lot of what was coming in The Force Awakens, but I asked to be kept unspoiled for the latter half of the film – so all of that surprised me a great deal.

For me, building the Aftermath trilogy is less about what happens on screen in TFA and a whole lot about everything that leads up to the start of that film – how do we get to the state of the galaxy?

But, of course, there are a lot of wonderful little details and plot hooks, too, that give us reason to connect to Episode VII.

How did seeing Han Solo’s death on screen in Force Awakens affect how you think about that character, since you’re now contributing to that character’s life and story?

It’s sad and strange and wonderful. Sad, because I know where he goes. Strange, because it’s like writing the adventures of a character that you know meets a very precise end. Wonderful, because he still has a voice, he still has adventures to tell, and it means we don’t have to be done with him just because of what happens to him on Starkiller Base.

What are your favorite moments or character beats from the original trilogy that you use for inspiration in these novels?

It’s mostly in the character beats. The characters are wonderful in the films, because they actually seem to like each other, and they do so in a very short time. I’ve remarked that Finn and Poe meeting is like watching two dogs meet – it’s momentarily suspicious and then launches into straight-up happy buddy adoration of one another. I like that. I think it’s optimistic and sweet and I try to seize it for the books.

But sometimes, it’s also trying to rhyme with the aesthetics – the lines of hyperspace, the roar of the TIE fighter, a starship ramp descending.

Prior to working on these novels, how did Star Wars influence your own fiction?

Not really overtly, except in the case of my YA Heartland trilogy – one blurb described that as Star Wars intersecting with John Steinbeck, and that’s pretty accurate.

With this series of novels, you’re balancing characters you’ve created yourself alongside characters that were already established in the Star Wars universe. How does that process work?

Mostly, I get a list of things I can’t do, and then we go from there. With Life Debt, some of those restrictions fell away because TFA came out, so I had more freedom to include the tentpole characters in a bigger, more meaningful way.

What would do you hope will be your biggest or most unique contributions to the Star Wars canon?

I love Sloane, but she is the creation of the very awesome John Jackson Miller [in his 2014 Star Wars Rebels novel A New Dawn].

If people remember me for Sinjir or Mister Bones, I’ll take that.